Arrivals: Archeologist uncovers motivation behind aliya

Despite the personal tremors of life, the British oleh’s future looks bright.

Aliya from London to Kfar Saba (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Aliya from London to Kfar Saba
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Ehai Hikliya was born Steve French, 59 years ago in England.
He settled here in May 2012, but was no stranger to Israel – having volunteered here back in the late ’70s as a young, idealistic student who had studied archeology and wanted to see the biblical landscape firsthand.
“I first came here in 1978 and worked for six months on Kibbutz Ruhama, the first kibbutz to be established in the Negev,” he says. “I recall the social and political atmosphere was more tense in those days, as there were no peace treaties back then.”
He met his Yemenite wife when they were both on holiday in Europe, two carefree young people from different worlds who were drawn to each other – in a discotheque. They married in 1979 and had two sons. But tragedy struck when Esther was killed in an accident at the age of 34.
“I wanted my boys to grow up in Israel,” says Hikliya, “so I sent them here to live with my wife’s family and they divided their time between her brother and her parents, who all lived in Rehovot.”
He decided to stay in Europe and work, to ensure he could support his children with a steady income.
“I had to guarantee a regular flow of income and stayed in my job in the ship-building industry, but visited them often,” he says.
Even with the disruption of their upbringing, Hikliya is on very good terms with his sons. He currently lives with his older son, 34-year-old Mark, in Kfar Saba and enjoys a great relationship with his two small grandchildren, who correct his Hebrew, much to his amusement.
Mark spent 10 years working in England as a handyman and had his own successful business in which he dubbed himself a “domestic engineer.”
Today, he works as an artist creating ornamental furniture from concrete.
Hikliya’s younger son, Yaniv, is single and lives in Rishon Lezion; he works as a process manager for Intel, having earned his degree from Ben-Gurion University.
Hikliya’s intention when he made aliya was to become a tour guide, and he registered at the Lander Academy in Jerusalem for the two-year course recognized by the Tourism Ministry.
One-and-a-half years into the program, the college went bankrupt.
“I can’t complete my studies and at the moment, I’m completely in limbo,” he says. “I spent a great deal of money for the course, but even harder to accept than the loss of money is the fact that a big chunk of my life went for nothing.
At my age, it’s very hard to realize that probably nothing will come of it.”
The case is going through the courts and in the meantime, he has found some work as a call center supervisor at a market research company.
“The Jewish Agency is doing research on the motivation behind why people make aliya,” Hikliya explains. “We speak to people from many different countries, English, Russian, French and Spanish speakers, and ask them about their aliya experience. I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people about what motivated them to come and live in Israel, and the results have been very interesting.”
The answers range from wanting to be with family and friends, to Zionism, to marriage.
“There is a whole range of reasons, but I’ve discovered that young people are very idealistic and many say they come to defend the country and serve in the army,” he says.
He tells the story of one young woman he spoke to who participated on a Taglit-Birthright trip, then went to London to meet up with her mother, who had come from Canada.
“They happened to be in Trafalgar Square and there was an anti-Israel demonstration going on,” he recounts.
“It was soon after Operation Cast Lead and there were tens of thousands of people screaming ‘Death to Israel’ and waving Palestinian flags. There was no call for a dialogue about human rights, just raw, organic hostility. She went to a public phone and called the Jewish Agency and told them after what she had just seen, she wanted to make aliya – and she did.”
In spite of all the problems he has encountered along the way, he still thinks of Israel as a morally well-adjusted society.
“This is the only country in the world where everything stops on one day a week and sovereignty is given to God,” he says. As a follower of the Reform Movement and an archeologist, he feels that archeological findings actually support the practices of Judaism that the movement advocates.
“I would love to have worked as an archeologist here,” Hikliya says, “but because of the disruptions of my life I never had the opportunity.”
He is optimistic that the future is bright.
“Today, I’m reassessing my situation and I feel that the country is full of opportunities, even for someone my age,” Hikliya says. He is a also a qualified English teacher but ultimately he wants to work in archeology, his first love.
And his unusual names? “I made them up,” he confides.